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September 25, 2009 | KPMB Architects
The mission of the Royal Conservatory is to develop human potential through leadership in music and the arts.” – Dr. Peter Simon, President, The Royal Conservatory
The new TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning is the final jewel in the crown of Toronto’s Cultural Renaissance, a phenomenon that was catalysed in the slipstream of the Bilbao effect. It also fulfils a 20-year dream to build a new home for Canada’s premier music and arts educator, The Royal Conservatory (RCM). Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB), under the direction of Marianne McKenna, has committed to helping the RCM to realize the vision which was set forth in 1991 with its award-winning Master Plan.
Conceived as ‘a series of great rooms’ for music, the TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning manifests The Royal Conservatory’s ambitious dream for a unique hybrid facility. The centrepiece of the project is the 1,135-seat Koerner Hall, which signals the expanded role of the RCM as a cultural destination for performance. With its distinctive interior and world-calibre acoustics, Koerner Hall will create a recognizable icon for the RCM, locally and internationally.
The project also includes three tiers of glass fronted lobbies overlooking Philosopher’s Walk, back-of-house areas for performers, the café at the ground floor level, and an installation of unique antique musical instruments donated by Michael Koerner. Each level of the lobbies – the Leslie & Anna Dan Gallerias – offers magnificent views of the University of Toronto and the City, and distinctive spaces in which to host a variety of functions related to concerts, conferences and special events. The triple height orchestra lobby features limestone floors and is designed to accommodate 200 for seated dinners. A glass-enclosed room at the second lobby level, in memory of Hin Shiu Hung, will be a much sought after venue for meetings and private entertaining.
Large light-filled vocal and instrumental studios, directly above the back of house and below the lobbies, wrap Koerner Hall and re-enforce the complementarity of performance and learning that is the mandate of the RCM.
Defining a New Cultural Precinct for Toronto
The project occupies an important site in midtown Toronto at the threshold of the University of Toronto’s downtown campus and integrates Philosopher’s Walk, a landscape pedestrian route that runs north and south linking Bloor Street to Hoskin Avenue. The design strategically participates in forming a new cultural precinct for the City, along with its neighbour the Royal Ontario Museum and the Gardiner Museum around the corner on Queen’s Park.
The project also involved the progressive restoration of the RCM’s heritage site, Ihnatowycz Hall, including the restoration of the exterior heritage fabric and the 237-seat Mazzoleni Hall. Although the new TELUS Centre is substantive, its siting and massing is deferential to the 19th century heritage buildings on Bloor Street which have housed the RCM since 1963. The contemporary architecture emphasizes transparency and accessibility as a dynamic counterpoint to the polychromatic masonry walls, and elevated entrance on Bloor Street.
The space between the historic and new building is enclosed to create a skylit pedestrian court linking the Bloor Street entrance to Koerner Hall and the Dan Gallerias. The glass and steel structure of the new addition generates a dialogue between old and new, and celebrates the restored polychromatic facades of the heritage buildings. Small balconies project through the façade of the historic south wall and mark the half landings of the original wood staircase of Ihnatowycz Hall.
Academic – Professional Conservatory
A key objective was to maximize flexibility to integrate new technology and adapt to changes in both the RCM’s professional and community programs. The new additions include 43 new teaching and practice studios, the renovation of Ihnatowycz Hall (1881) and the new 150-seat Conservatory Theatre, a rehearsal space designed to accommodate a range of functions, from music performances, special events, and classroom activities. In scale and proportion the Theatre replicates the acoustic quality and stage size of the main Koerner Hall to prepare students for live performance.
Overall, the TELUS Centre emphasizes the primacy of acoustics to directly support the RCM’s educational mission of developing human potential through leadership in arts education and its vision of fostering creativity through its innovative academic programs.
Koerner Hall – the Heart of The Royal Conservatory
The heart of the project is Koerner Hall, the 1,135-seat concert hall named after donors Michael and Sonja Koerner. The signature element is the ‘veil’ of twisting oak ‘strings’ which forms the backdrop for the chorus at the first balcony level, then hovers over the stage below the fixed acoustic canopy, extending into and over the hall at the technical balcony level. The strings act as part of the acoustic reflection when under the canopy, and then become acoustically transparent over the rest of the space. Balcony fronts and seats, as well as the hall floors are natural oak, contrasted against undulating black plaster panels that line the hall and reflect the dark stone of the exterior cladding.
Developed in concert with Sound Space Design and Anne Minors Performance Consultants, Koerner Hall is designed to achieve an N1 acoustic rating, and is ideal for classical music, jazz, world music, amplified music, lectures and film. The design is based on the classic ‘shoe-box’ shape of some of the world’s finest concert halls, and features two balcony tiers above the main orchestra level, and a third technical balcony. Juxtaposed against the shoebox form of the hall, the wood balcony fronts and curving walls create a warm, sculpted ‘liner’ within the rectangular form. Sightlines and adjustable acoustics allow for a broad range of concert types including live televised broadcasts.